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Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


And now I am also in.

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Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Close Your Eyes If You Want To Keep Them
1196 words

I hung limp as they dragged me to the idling van. The door slid shut behind me and suddenly it seemed like the riot was a mile away. All I could do was moan and count the pulses of pain around what must have been at least one broken rib, probably two. Things had gotten really bad out there when that kid went down. Our guys started lighting fires and their guys started shooting smoke, then the melee got going and I ran into an alley. Where the mercs were waiting, military men dressed all in black.

They held me down in the van. I heard a pneumatic hiss, then a slurping sound as something heavy and wet dropped onto my back. "Close your eyes if you wanna keep 'em," muttered one gruff merc. The thing on my back spread out, winding around my arms and legs and pulling them in tight. The mercs yanked their hands away quick before it could touch them. I tried to fight it, but it only fed off my struggles, squeezing me in tighter until I was totally immobile - until I could barely breathe, mummified within a layer of green jelly, only my nostrils uncovered. I kept my eyes shut tight, but I could feel it probing softly against my eyelids, searching for a way in.

When all you know about your surroundings is the combined stench of diesel, rotting fish, and artificial biology, five hours is a long loving time. That’s how long that jelly kept me pinned down in the van before the mercs brought me inside their warehouse and carried me in, propping me up against an iron plate with long gloves that the creature couldn’t stick to. The creature bent my hands up to my shoulders while the mercs curved an eight-foot-high carbon nanotube wire mesh across me, and welded it in place.

When the jelly finally drained away, I had less than an inch of wiggle room. My fingers poked through the cage by necessity, unable to even bend the impossibly-thin wire. I worked my sore jaw, squinting against the light as the creature snaked across the floor and seemed to relax into a wide, rippling geometric pattern.

“You know the names of resistance members.” I hadn’t heard the woman come in, but there she was, only six feet away and dressed head-to-toe in alligator. It had to have been vat-grown - that much gator skin represented more than what was thought to still exist in the wild - and it was of a quality I’d never seen before.

“No,” I croaked, and she took a step towards me.

“Yes, you do,” she said, staring me down with eyes tinged lavender. “And I’m willing to bet you know their pheromonal signatures as well.”

“How can… I don’t know how to tell you that, even if I knew--”

She cut me off, holding up a small cylindrical canister. “You won’t have to.” She twisted the top, resulting in a pneumatic hiss and two jets of steam. “Your brain holds in the information, and this nice fellow knows how to find it.” She tossed the lid aside and moved closer, holding the open canister out towards me. “And when he finds it, he’ll gobble it up and take its place. Won’t that be nice?”

Even in this dingy light I could see a wet purple grub, inching up to the lip of the canister. It was translucent in the same way as the straight-jacket creature, but this one also had a froth of hooks and teeth churning on its surface - my eyelids would do nothing to protect me.

I stared into that tiny maw and whispered, “No,” and thumbed my temple, activating my bionic eye to spray an aerosol mist of nanobots. In a cascade of miniature carnage, the bots devoured their only desired foodstuff - gen-mod jelly meat. The grub sizzled and melted down into the canister. The woman only had a moment to be shocked before the bot cloud hit her face - she dropped the canister and started swatting at herself, but it was too late - the nanobots had made their way inside.

“Ngah! Harra hahrr rah, gkk chsssss…” Her lavender eyes rolled back in her head, then bulged and exploded. A dark mixture of blood and melted jelly poured down her cheeks, and she collapsed. The straight-jacket jelly coalesced and surged towards me, but it stopped short of the cloud radius. I had to work fast. Switching the setting on my eye was easy, but I strained to turn my head and still thumb my temple. The spray hit the iron sheet as I’d intended, but it would still take the bots time to chew through enough metal to free me.

Time the remaining jelly intended to capitalize on. I don’t know how it sensed the short-lived nanobots from the first spray powering down, but the moment they did it rolled forward through the cage, pinning my legs. I switched the setting back to the jelly-eaters and prayed I hadn’t miscounted my micro-cartridge load, but by that time I couldn’t crane my neck down enough to get a shot. I had to wait, while the nanobots noisily spit out iron shavings and the creature slid up my back.

I steeled myself as it spread up my neck. What happened in the van taught me that moving would make it stronger, so I held as still as I could, with my thumb against my temple. It spread past my ears, into my mouth, and up my nose. I held my eyes shut tight as the creature circled them. I knew it couldn’t resist tasting the whites of my eyes, but I thought I might lose my chance when it started to move my thumb away from my temple. I couldn’t resist for fear of empowering it. Finally it covered both my closed eyes, swaddling me completely in warm, pulsating jelly.

At that moment I jabbed my thumb into my temple as hard as I could, surprising the creature enough that it couldn’t stop me. The nanobot spray ripped through my right eyelid, tearing it off entirely. It hurt like hell, but the bionic eye didn’t technically need to blink. The bots punctured the jelly and started converting it into oxygen, and though it had tighten on me when I’d moved, it then loosened, giving up as much as dying. At the same time, the iron-eaters rumbled by beneath me and I tumbled onto the dusty floor.

If the mercenaries had come in, I’d have been dead meat. But they didn’t, and everything else was quiet. The woman was still breathing despite her trauma, so I triggered the homing beacon in my eye and scooped her up. The comforting chop of the bug-out drone was met with a hail of mercenary gunfire, but we made it back alive.

“Now print up some new eyes and get her down to medical. We’ll need to run a scan before we plug her in, though. Only way to know for sure if she’ll work with us. Pray she does. And long live the resistance, comrade.”

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Ok I'm in.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Thanks for the crit, Jitzu!

Lance's Last Chance
Count: 1419

“No, man, I gotta loving say something, ‘cause if I don’t then she’ll never know how I really felt all this time!” Lance was losing it and the tailor was getting pissed. The old dude sighed, picked a few pins out of the carpet and wondered why his son didn’t go into the family business. Lance pushed back his ginger locks and stared wide-eyed at Dustin through the multi-paneled mirror. “I mean - right??”

“But like…” Dustin poked at a mannequin in a fancy cummerbund; he hadn’t gotten Carly’s save-the-date. “If you really cared this much, shouldn’t you have said something like, forever ago?”

“Yes, dude! I know! Trust me, I know, it’s all I can loving think about right now. ‘Cause it’s my last chance! I mean poo poo, Carson loving Punth? She’s marrying that guy??”

“He’s a hundred percent marriage material, bro. Like, she’s honestly lucky.”

“Dude what the gently caress, you’re supposed to be on my side!”

“I mean - no, like, not like she wouldn’t be like, way more lucky to have you, dude."

“Okay, ‘cause--”

“No, dude. Of course, yeah. But like, seriously. If you do say something? She’ll probably just, A, get super pissed and B, kick you out like a bitch and C, resulting in everyone thinking you’re a total douche.”

Lance turned around suddenly and knocked a bunch of pins out of the old dude’s hand.“But--”

“Seriously. Dude,” Dustin cut him off again, cap pushed up and eyebrows riding high. “You don’t gently caress with a lady’s special day.”

Lance sighed. “I know, bro. I know.” He could never say it, but he was nervous, and he’d be way more pumped if Dustin was coming too, ‘cause Dustin’s one of his closest bros of all time. But he could never just say that.

***

For being in someone's backyard, the event itself was actually pretty sick, like the cover of a ladies magazine or something. All different colors, folded paper things, open bar - that part was nice. Lance was looking sharp for sure, but some of these dudes had on their grandad’s suit from the 30’s and poo poo. Old money, probably Punth’s boys from whatever secret society he crawled out of. “Scumbag,” said Lance to himself.

“Umm, is that Lance Meyer??!” The shriek came from over by the punchbowl. Lance didn’t even have to turn around, he knew who it was. That dork Glory Fellowes from freshman year in the dorms. Dustin had a thing with her, but Lance knew he could've had it if he wanted. He downed his punch and swiped another cup.

"Yo, Glory. Sup." He decided to keep it low-key so he focus on getting back with Carly. But still, Glory had definitely stepped up her game, looks-and-body-wise. Still on the chubby side by Lance's standards, but she had that pale-busty-redhead thing going on, and it worked. Lance almost lost it when he saw the hipster chump trailing her, but he went for a slap-bump instead. "Bro, sup, I'm Lance. You know Carson?"

"N-no," he started, before Glory cut in. "Lance, this is Jan. We live together."

"That's tight." It wasn't tight, but whatever. Lance looked around at the party crowd, spotting Punth and Carly cheesing it up by the DJ booth. So when's the, like, marriage part?" That shitbird Jan smirked for some reason. Glory's face dropped.

"You're not serious, right? Lance, they got married like two hours ago. This is the reception." She scoffed. "Figures I didn't see you at the service."

Lance snorted to himself. He felt like a moron, but he had to front. "Nah, I was there. In the back. I meant, uh," He had nothing. "Oh poo poo, there they are. Gotta go say what's up to the bride and groom." He broke away smooth, grabbed another punch cup on his way across the dancefloor. He had to wait behind someone's grandma for a while, which made him wish he'd grabbed a second.

When he got to Punth, the slightly-taller man put his hand out for a firm shake and said, "Thanks for coming."

"For sure, man. Congrats, bro, for real."

Punth narrowed his eyes, searching Lance's face. "You're...?"

"Lance Meyer. Old flame- I mean old friend of Carly's." Power move, bitch. And Punth clearly caught it, his eyebrow jumped up a mile. Lance let go of his hand as Carly turned towards him.

"Laaaance," she said. "I didn't know you were here."

"Yeah, uh, I been around, you know."

"You weren't at the ceremony," Punth interrupted, trying to flex. "I have a photogenic memory."

"Alright, dude. I mean, I was there, it was fuckin' beautiful, so relax." They didn't say anything for a second. "Um, but like Carly, I was wondering if I could talk to you for a second? Alone?" She eyed Punth. He chuckled like he could care less. A sure sign Lance had gotten under his skin.

Lance and Carly moved a few feet away, near the gazebo. "So, what's up, Lance? It's been a while."

"Listen. You know that part of the wedding where the guy says 'If anyone thinks this sucks, speak up'?"

She crossed her arms. "Yeah, the priest, yeah?"

"Yeah, well, back when he said that, at the church, right... I meant to say, 'Me, I think it sucks'. Like, stand up and say it out loud. Because I do, babe. This whole marriage, Carson loving Punth, babe, this sucks. We should be together. Let me finish, I know it's been a minute since we texted but what we had was real."

"Are you making GBS threads me?" She wasn't feeling it. "You loving left me and told me I was a loving prude because I wouldn't let you gently caress me in the rear end, you son of a bitch. I sent you a courtesy invite because a lot of our mutual friends are here, and you bring this poo poo?"

Suddenly Punth was at her side. "Everything okay here, honey?"

"It's fine. Thanks for coming, Lance." She and Punth walked off, muttering. Lance swallowed hard. Everything got really far away and he put his hand on a gazebo beam for a sec. Everyone was looking at him, he could feel it. He had to rally. He put his head down and headed for the punchbowl.

***

Lance came to in a bed not his own and he felt a surge of pride. But then he noticed that weird beeping sound, and realized it felt like he was on benzos.

"You're awake." Dustin turned off the TV. "Dude, you're lucky to be alive, you realize that, right?"

"The gently caress's..." Talking was hard, and Lance could feel himself drooling.

"You don't remember? poo poo bro, you got hosed up at the reception. They had to call an ambulance and poo poo."

"gently caress.... Wha'd I do?"

"Well first of all you did exactly what I said not to do. I heard from Glory you tried to tell Carly you're in love with her. After the fuckin' wedding, too."

"Yeah..." He remembered that part.

"And when she surprisingly didn't kick you out on your rear end, you proceeded to get blackout and jump off the roof into the pool."

"F-gently caress." Part of it came back to him. But what came back was mostly pain.

"Only, there wasn't a pool, there was a chalk drawing of a pool on the driveway. You broke both your legs. Doc says it'll be six to eight months of P.T. before you're walking again."

"Jesus gently caress."

"Yeah. You're a loving moron, Lance. And by the way, Glory said you made a pass at her before your little Almost Famous moment, too. She said you tried to sock her date, but he tripped you into some chairs. A moron and a loving scumbag, too."

"poo poo."

"Look, bro... We been bros a long time. Since we rushed, but like... You need help. Seriously. You're... hosed up right now, man. Get help. But don't call me." He shook his head one last time, and walked away.

"Wait. gently caress." Lance let his head sink back into the pillow, wincing as he tried to move his legs in the giant casts they were strung up in. He'd managed to lose everything at once. He hosed it all up. But at least he was finally alone. He could finally let it out. Lance cried, and cried, and cried, and didn't stop until a good while after a nurse had come by and closed the door to his room, so nobody else had to listen to his poo poo.

Something Else fucked around with this message at 06:35 on Apr 6, 2015

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Thanks for the crits, yes dudebros are garbage people, out for this week.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Sure, I'm in for this, sort me o sorting hat

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Sitting Here posted:

You are cursed to love plants, but your power makes them creep and crawl and choke living things.
Haha, yup :420: :350:

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Sitting Here posted:

You are cursed to love plants, but your power makes them creep and crawl and choke living things.

Seeds on the Wind
1224 Words

They keep me in a shack on an small island in the Pacific Northwest. They think they keep me, anyway, if I wanted it I could be gone; wash up somewhere else like so much bullwhip kelp. The truth is that I stay here for my health. Your glass-and-metal towers hold nothing that can nourish me, and my birthplace was burned to blackened earth ages ago. I relish this solitude; here I am a distant god to my creations, spread as they are across all meadows, on a wind of life and death. Which wind brought you here?

You don’t have to answer right away. Let’s get you inside, first. Warm you by my hearth. My name is Foster Greenleaf. I don’t know about any kayaking, if that’s what you called it, and I haven’t any boat, but you can at least stay the night. Weather this dreadful storm. I’ll grow you a nice raft and paddle in the morning. Careful, careful! Watch that patch of trilliums. Can’t blame you, I suppose, it isn’t any more your fault for your clumsy feet than it is a vine’s for how large its pumpkins grow. I grew it, by the way - my home, I mean, where the hearth is. We're nearly there, stop shivering!

Joruliac namarah. Did you like that? How I parted the vines with a wave of my hands? Yes, it is a nice trick! I hardly do it anymore when I'm alone. Which is often! Hardly ever get any visitors out here at all, my situation being what it is. Yours is the first human face I’ve seen aside from Dean’s in… well, I’m not so sure of time, I’d have to check the rings on-- NO!!

Sorry. Sorry. Instinct, you know. I'll pick those up, you sit, er... there. That fern will hold you. Not unlike one of your bagged bean-chairs, no? Do people still have those? Never mind. Whatever the number, it has been ages since I was out amongst the people of the day. Here are your matches. My apologies again, but of course I must ask you not to bring them out again. There will be no fire here. Understand? Don’t just nod, say yes.

Good. Now, I know what you're thinking. 'But, but Mr. Greenleaf! You said there would be a hearth!' Indeed I did, you lucky boy, and I do not deceive you! Turn your eyes upon this great flower-bud. Yes, you can touch! See how its petals are all curled-in like so? Put your hand here. Feel the warmth? Now watch. Amerelin vonducia, porchartine el-mode... Exaxia!

Ahhh… Not bad, eh? This is a very special flower. You can touch the petals now, quickly, before the pollen heats up. Soon it will be hot enough to cook meat! Dean calls it a chemical reaction with the oxygen in the air. I don’t know about any chemicals, I just know plants. I have a way with them. If I can catch a seedling young enough, I can grow it into I want. Yes, it’s a boast, but look at the phoenix flower! And I grew my house - I could even grow a plant that could build me a brick house, if I wanted to. I can grow a plant to defend me. Kill for me if I told it to. I’ve even grown a plant that can know true love, and I mean real, intellectual, spiritual love, and can act on it!

I’m sorry. I should apologize. Again. There are levels of my power… No. Suffice it to say, certain things and beings that were lost in the fire are lost forever, and should not be spoken of in polite company. And certain beings were not legal by the strictures of Wizard Law in the first place, no matter how much mutual love and physical attraction there was. Like none of those bloody conjurers ever whipped up a nymph for a spot of fun! Bloody hypocrites…

I’m starting to think you don’t believe me, for some reason. What is that, your cellular phone? Hah, Dean’s gonna get an earful when he turns up! That braggart said it was rare indeed to have a phone with a screen you touch. But if you have one as well? It can be naught but a trifle. Yes, yes, of course, step outside if you must. Dean’s always on about finding a signal; it makes him quite cross, in fact. So, good luck to you! I’ll be in here where it’s warm...

Welcome back. Any luck out there? No, I thought not. Any stars? No, still clouded over. These storms can be mighty tricky, eh? Mighty tricky indeed. Drown grasses, uproot trees, knock over flowers that might have taken decades to grow. But the plants don’t mind. The water alone will never destroy the plant entirely, the plant is too resilient. The only thing that can destroy the plant for good is the fire. And you know about that, don’t you? Mister matches in my pocket. Mister cigarettes. Too wet to light, were they? Yes, I know, it’s alright. Hand them over and I’ll tell you a story.

My nose was much sharper back then, that first day, when Dean found me. I smelled the tobacco in his sinuses, on his fingers, all over his clothes. He’d come to see if the rumors were true, rumors of a crazy old man running around Yellowstone, trashing campsites and killing boars with a spear of ash. And of course they were. I spent some time with him after that, travelling east in a metal chariot that ran on ancient, ancient plants, long dead. Older than even me. I’m told they now have chariots that run on fresh corn, too. Fantastic waste, if you ask me, shouldn’t waste corn, oh no. Corn is one of my finest-- That’s where we went, see, in those first weeks. Dean showed me of the corn fields, larger than any I’d seen, naturally or by my own hand. He tried to buy me, saying the world would need someone like me if there would be any hope to defeat the Russians.

He didn’t need any Russia to convince me. The promise of a blank canvas was enough. He set me up here, once he got to know my ways, and he brings me a case of seeds every month. He hardly ever mentions Russia nowadays. He’s always on about his profits, and his kids, now. And how much good we’re doing for the world. Pfah! I can smell on the air how much “good” we’re doing. I can see in the yellowing of the leaves what the good, scientific people of Planet Earth are doing with their full tummies. Rats, all. Rats! Rats who sunk the ship and use their only raft for kindling. The winds are changing, and the rats have forfeited their vanes. Winds of--

SIT! Sit. Down. Your kayak is gone. I let the seaweeds take it, may the polyps find a home there. You, I have another use for. The phoenix flower requires a simple food, but one that can be hard for me to find; thus I thank the winds for this providence. And I know exactly which wind brought you here, rat. The same wind that will bring us all.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Thanks for the crit from monster week Grizzled Patriarch, and thanks for the crit from this week RedTonic. Now it's time for me to do my part. :patriot:

Doctor Idle posted:

Helka’s Inheritance
(1,297 Words)

You painted a cool world here, lots of great imagery from the craggy ice cavern to the happily pulsing stone to the huge spire with reappearing furniture and windows into alternate realities. Overall it felt like an interesting cross between House of Leaves and a YA novel like Divergent or Red Queen. In that regard, you did make use of certain cliches (hellbeasts, the Harbinger, the Allfather, etc) as shortcuts when a more unique visual description would have been nice. There were a few typos, and you switched tenses a few times which can be jarring, but there wasn't anything that really held me up or made me stop reading. The main thing that felt off for me about this story was that it seemed like a very personal journey for Helka - she's at the end of a quest pertaining to her dead father, and the story is about her learning she's an all-powerful, all-important wizard after a lifetime of thinking herself powerless - and yet, the writing is very removed from Helka's perspective. The descriptions are largely objective, detailing Helka's journey up the tower in real-ish-time, but you only rarely give us a glimpse of how Helka actually feels about what's around her, aside from fairly standard reactions to seeing things like hellbeasts or visions of the Harbinger from outside space-time. The most glaring instances of this failing in the story are when you dip into passive voice - "Travelling through space was a being of pure energy. An unbridled rage was felt just by gazing upon it" - which would easily (though maybe not satisfyingly) be improved by phrasing it as "Helka saw etc. etc."

Hope this helps, Doc!

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Barbarian story:

The Dread Fissure
298 words

Ragvir paused to lick at condensation streaming down the cave wall. He wondered for a moment if the moss growing there was edible, but shook his head to dislodge that stupid thought. Of course the moss would be poison, just like everything else in this bedeviled fissure which, since opening up a season ago, had proceeded to bring pestilence and ruin to everything the tribal lord once held dear.

The latest casualty was his right leg, severed below the knee by the dull-edged but implacably-strong mandibles of the giant centipede that lay headless - on both ends - about forty paces back in the rough-hewn corridor. Compared to everything else, the leg was nothing - a simple rag knotted tight around the stump slowed that creeping death. It was what yet lay before him that churned Ragvir's stomach and made him want to flee back to the surface.

But he would not. Despite the pain and fear - sensations last felt in his early whelping days - Ragvir pushed deeper into the cavern, every step accompanied by a ching from the long-honored greatsword Crossbearer, a legendary blade now dulling by use as a simple crutch. Yet another hot shame to drive Ragvir onward when there was nothing else left to fuel him.

"You used to be so well-heeled, father." Ragvir was hardly aware he'd entered the final cavern, but the giggle that followed those words was unmistakable. He stopped short, almost feeling - wishing - that he'd turn to stone on the spot and be freed of this dread responsibility. But rage filled the vacuum within him, and he found the words to speak.

"You're not my daughter anymore, blood witch. Time to die." And then Crossbearer flew, spinning away through the darkness, heavy-laden with the future of Ragvir's tribe, and his own absolution.

Something Else fucked around with this message at 21:02 on Apr 27, 2015

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Thanks for the crits, stoked to have HM'd, in for smell-o-writing

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Freshly Split
1023 words

I see that bastard’s face every time I close my eyes, so I keep them open. I feel the stubble of his chin in the rough plastic handle of my hand-axe. There’s nothing I can do about that, because I left my gloves behind. There’s nothing I can do about his musk flooding out from within a damp log freshly split, or his voice rising sharply in the pop and crackle of the fire. Or the ghostly heat of his face next to mine as I drift off to sleep.

If I could I would block him out entirely, relegate him to the prison of unremembered dreams so that I might, for once, be alone when I’m alone. But my mind is a far softer tool than I require.

***

I awake to the sound of a twig snapping about fifteen yards away, and I know it must be him. It’s pitch black and my tent has never felt so empty. I can feel his weight bearing down on me with every crunching step across the icy ground. My flannel reeks of smoke and I silently curse myself for the campfire wisp that I allowed to betray me.

"Madeline." I say nothing. His gloved hands brush against the rain-repellant skin of my hiding place, clumsily prying for a zipper he surely can't see in the darkness. I’m sure he can hear me sliding out of my sleeping bag. "I know it's you." He finally locates the jangling tag and revs a tiny chainsaw to tear my foolish plans apart. I picture his face, bearded and pock-marked, calm and enraged with nothing in between.

I picture my axe, wedged uselessly in a stump back near the bare old oak. I'm burning up. The zipper stops. His hands come inside first and I kick between them as hard as I can. Something crunches under my heel and his blood gushes onto my skin. I try not to look. I try not to see. He's a dark huddled blob against the snow, receding as I leave it all behind and run into the trees.

I pray for my bare feet as I push off of ice-slick roots and moss patches that give beneath me. He came this way; I can still smell his sweat, the whiskey and gasoline riding it. It’s the smell of silent days, sleepless nights, and early-morning escapes downstairs to sit in the car and wonder if I could really do it. Two nights ago I learned that I could, and it was the greatest feeling in all the world.

Only now, with a frigid wind biting at my ears, I’m overfull on that freedom. Too bloated to run, and cramping. I skid off a cliff I didn’t see coming. It’s not far down but I land hard, bruise my hip and roll to a stop in a bush of frozen thorns. My iron maiden. I shudder and accept my punishment; at least I can catch my breath. But I can still hear him, thrashing through the trees, shouting what must be my name yet sounds like nothing more than a dying animal’s scream. I tear myself free, leaving my flannel in tatters before I walk out onto the frozen pond.

I slide slowly across the ice, building little rows of weightless white aside my numb feet. I expect the light cracking from beneath me, about halfway across when his roar cuts through the silence. The roar before he’s kicking in the door. The roar before he’s dragging me into the bathroom by my hair. The roar before he destroys my fragile attempts to make any of it bearable. I limp in a small circle and face him.

Moonlit, he's a shaggy beast breathing hungry clouds, waiting at the edge of the lake with my axe coiled in his hand. "Madeline. Come over here. I'll take you home." His words come from somewhere else. Someone named Patrick. The man trapped inside my husband. Only, not trapped, because the door is always open, and he stays inside. "Madeline?"

The wetness around my eyes turns heavy, like condensation on a maxed-out radiator. I haven't spoken since the camping store in the outlet mall, where I thought nobody would recognize me. It didn’t matter; all they’d had to do was remember me. There are only so many roads out of our hometown, and he knows better than anyone how'd I choose mine.

"Madeline," he growls again. "It's dangerous out there. Come on, baby."

"No." It comes out soft, but I know he can hear it. Steam wisps off of his heaving shoulders. His eyes are hidden behind a tangle of brown hair under a grey knitted cap. I remember knitting it, but I don't remember giving it to him. He steps onto the ice and his boot breaks right through. He falls forward through the ice, splashing into the freezing pond. The cracks reach me in moments. I run for the bank, but each time I outrun them, the cracks jump up ahead. My next unfeeling step sinks into water, and I fall.

But my knees hit cold dirt, hands submerged only up to my wrists. I stare at the woman reflected amid chunks of ice, expecting the monster to rise from the deep and pull her under. I flinch - but I look again and see a heron flying free, silhouetted against the moon. I pull myself up on the root of a sideways tree on the bank, toppled and exposed. Aside from the shifting ice and the ripples of my own creation, the pond is still.

***

I pick my boots out from the shreds of my tent and ease them on. Feet still numb, though I know it will be hell when they finally warm up. I slip into my jacket and thank Christ the Lord for the subtle bulge of the keys in the inside breast pocket. I find a massive rented pickup truck parked behind the Subaru. My Subaru, now, I realize. The strange newness of that phrase preoccupies my mind as I maneuver around his truck, and drive on into the morning.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Untitled Opening
494 words

Paxton was overjoyed stepping onto the helicopter. Jeepers, he thought. Father was right about the perks of this internship. A helicopter ride! Already aboard were Dominique, the black girl who was also a new intern at Paul-Fentry Diametrics, and Kyle, their direct supervisor. Kyle had a strange way about him, which made him appear both bored and anxious at the same time. I’ll bet he’s been on helicopters a lot of times, thought Paxton. They idled on the helipad for several minutes before another man boarded, this one white-haired and bespoke-suited.

As they helicopter rose into the air, the older man located the bulky headset stored beneath his seat, fitted them over his ears and only then looked up, squinting under bushy eyebrows at Kyle, Dominique, and Paxton in turn. Paxton started to smile, his instinctual reaction to anything even remotely uncomfortable. Kyle looked like he was going to throw up. Dominique was the first of them to find her own headset under her seat, smirking as the two boys fumbled to follow suit.

“...bloody bastard jumped! Granted that was the idea, but one must want to remember one’s parachute in such cases.” Dominique laughed politely, feeding the older man’s roguish grin. Who was he talking about? I mustn’t ask, Paxton decided. Father always said a man never asks another man to repeat himself. Paxton failed to detect the irony in the fact that his father quoted that phrase at least twice a month.

The man clapped his hands on his knees. “Are we all plugged-in, gentlemen?” Paxton nodded, laughing a bit at nothing. The man glanced at Kyle expectantly, who swallowed, glancing up from the forest rumbling by below. Paxton noticed dark stains spreading out across Kyle’s pale blue shirt as he shifted towards the younger passengers.

“Interns, this is Sir Theodore Louis Fentry, one of the company’s founders. He’s here to--”

Fentry cut in with a wave of his wrinkled hand, but blinked as he clearly forgot Kyle’s name. “That’ll be all, er…”

“Kyle, sir.”

Fentry grimaced. “Your surname, boy.”

“I-i-it’s H-H-H-Hargrove, sir!” Kyle flushed a deep red, unable to even look at Fentry.

“Thank you, Mr. Hargrove.” His sour expression morphed back into grandfatherly warmth, a coin he’d been flipping since he’d climbed aboard. “Now. Our summer interns. Paxton LaWitte and Dominique… what was it?”

“Jackson, sir.”

“Yes, of course. Thank you. I’m mostly terrible with names, my dear.” But not with mine, thought Paxton. Father will be proud when I tell him! “I’m sure you’ve heard that our interns emerge at the top of the industry, moving into consultancy positions almost immediately. But what you might not have heard is how we narrow down the pool.” Fentry reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out the longest knife Paxton had ever seen. It just keeps going, Paxton marvelled, not yet fully comprehending what was about to happen. Dominique steeled herself, glancing between the three men wide-eyed; she understood perfectly.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


The Monster in the Closet
833 words in collaboration with Jitzu_the_Monk

You grew up Mormon, but that’s not why you aren’t Mormon, is it? No, no. You smoke two packs a day and won’t drink anything unless it’s got caffeine or alcohol, but that’s not why you aren’t Mormon either. Get a grip on yourself, Jill. You can’t hide from your own mind. Hmm, you think it’s useless to ask unknowable questions like whether there’s a God, whether he’s married to another God, or whether given an eternity to grow after death all good people could achieve godhood. But all that pales before your true concerns. Denial doesn’t suit you, Jill. I will make you see.

Ah yes, now you’re staring it in the face. You aren’t Mormon because you’ve got a secret. It solves nothing to repress your own nature, Jill. No matter how much you try to block it from your mind, your secret stays with you. You hide it from family, from your colleagues at Harding Elementary, from anyone who might get close enough to find out that you’re a monster. Chapel is out of the question. You don’t need a community, nor the scrutiny that comes with it. Still, your heart betrays you. It cries out for a companion, someone who won’t judge. Maybe someone who could share in your…um…interests.

But vetting a companion is hard. Never forget that. You can’t get close to just anyone. Sure, your colleagues wander in and out of the teachers’ lounge, chit-chatting, trying to get to know their mysterious co-worker. But that doesn’t make them trustworthy. If they found out, it would be all over. You have to be discerning, Jill. Can’t just open your mouth and invite someone to the apartment, after all.

“Wanna hang out at my apartment after work?” Oh God. You just blurted it out. What have you done?

“Sure!” said Nuar.

Slipped up. Got too impulsive. Allowed your heart to steal away your good judgment. It’s wishful thinking. Yeah, Nuar used to team teach with you; she seemed open minded enough. But no. Jill, you need to get a hold of yourself. Nuar seems nice, I know you want this bad. But what if she saw…

“We’ll meet up in the parking garage. You can follow me back to my place.”

HALT THIS MADNESS.

Jill, let’s be reasonable. I feel for you, really I do. But what will Nuar think when she gets to your apartment and finds out what you really are? The world isn’t made for people like you. Oh God, JILL, what are you doing ?

***

Well, I have to admit it, Jill - I was wrong. I was wrong and you were right. Why did I EVER resist the monster inside you? Your parents tried to beat her out of you, but they couldn't kill her. She was always the strongest part of you, wasn't she? Yes, she was. Forever and in that very moment; A second heart, beating just within your breast, sending electric heatwaves into every corner of your body. You're hot to the touch! YOU'RE ON FIRE!!

...I'm speechless.

"That was amazing."

There you go - right again, Jill.

"Mm-hmm," Nuar murmured, pressing her thigh against yours. You were right about her, too. I take back everything bad about I said about her when we taught together. About all those 'subconscious' glances I caught you sneaking. I thought it was the monster at work, yearning to sin and defile - I just didn't understand! Hence the nights we spent alone in our rooms, weeping for our contradictions... I'm sorry for all of them, and ashamed.

"Would you open the window?"

"Yeah, I'm hot too," she said, stretching away to lift the pane, her curves glistening with sweat. My goodness, Jill! You're absolutely shameless! Just taking her in like that... This monster is a bit of a rogue, isn't she? I can't deny that I'm coming to understand her charm - the subtle sway she's always had over you... and our body.

Nuar turned back and laid her hand on your neck. "This is... crazy," she said. "It never even crossed my mind that we'd..."

"Me neither."

Hah hah, Jill. Very funny. Well, don't just lay there! Ask her if she wants a cup of tea! You've got to treat her properly if you want her for a companion, you know. YES - I'm saying we can keep her, but you'll have to do all the work! I will take on a purely advisory role.

"Mind if I smoke?"

That'll do, Jill.

"Only if I can have a drag," she said.

Nuar does have a rather sweet smile, after all, and she'll understand when I need to bitch about work stuff. I wonder what she'll bitch about. I find myself eager to understand her. I know what you're eager for... But do you see what we can do when we work together, Jill? You, me, and the monster inside? Don't worry, Jill. I have a plan for us. Who knows - perhaps one day we'll even let our monster out.

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Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


I goofed too, I thought it was 400-500 words for both halves. I had already posted when I realized I came in like 170 words short, and I shouldn't edit, so, welp. Sorry Jitzu!

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